2202 November 71
“And here he is, right on time as always.”
The smile on Jonas’ face was genuine but Johnson knew the old man well enough to see the anxiety in his manner as the two men settled into the private booth at the back of the club. The privacy screen filtered out most of the techno-thump noise that passed as music for the teen crowd and allowed the artist to think clearly. Jonas was well dressed as always but the color palate of his outfit was out of sorts, even more indication of the former actor’s discomfort.
He was clear this was a good opportunity, but why the intensity? Maybe he’s trying to impress his guest too?
The other man was younger, around Johnson’s age, but stockier and fit looking. His tailored outfit settled comfortably on his frame and the subtle color flows strongly suggested a high-end personal designer.
Money. Or a reasonably good imitation.
“Mr. Analise, may I introduce Johnson, artist and genius.” Johnson refrained from rolling his eyes at the ridiculous introduction, seeing it as more indication of Jonas’ angst. “I think you will find that he could be a valuable asset for your activities.”
The stranger smiled thinly and folded his hands in greeting, nodding briefly as he spoke, “Greetings my friend. I wish I could say I was familiar with your body of work, but I am told it is impressive. But that is not why I am here. Your patron tells me that you may be interested in better utilizing your skills. To extend your artistry to a canvas that can benefit from all of your training and expertise.”
The artist again suppressed an eye roll as he observed the man’s movements and non-verbal communication.
“Perhaps we can take advantage of the local privacy options and not speak in doubletalk from a B-rated holovid?” Johnson reached out to trigger the higher privacy settings to screen out possible eavesdroppers as he looked expectantly at the well dressed man.
Although Jonas looked shocked and about to intervene to cover up the possible gaffe, the third man only smiled and nodded.
“As I hoped, an actual professional. Very good. I represent an organization that tasks itself with ensuring the survival of the human species.”, he held up his hand to deflect the obvious response. “No, I do not exaggerate much. The diaspora has enriched and abandoned many, both those who ventured from old Earth, and those who were born among the colonies. We may have many homes now, but the spread of humanity has only fertilized the spread of diseases like greed, hatred, poverty, and avarice.”
“We work behind the scenes to diffuse some of these tensions before they boil over into dangerous situations. To smooth the bumps in the road to a true place of opportunity and growth for all of the children of Earth.”
As Jonas smiled broadly, clearly reflecting his complete belief in the expansive claims. Johnson crooked an eyebrow.
“And how exactly do I contribute to ‘saving humans from themselves’?”
“The Praesidium operates quietly from behind the scenes.”, explained Analise, “We operate through free agents in the field, independent and mobile Operators who can both gather info and take action when and where they are needed. Handlers gather and coordinate these resources to best direct the Operators, providing local intel and support as well as providing the connection to the larger organization.”
Johnson leaned forward, feeling the old tingle of excitement from his days as an Agent. “So you compartmentalize for security?”
“Of course, the Handlers contact agents through secure broadcasts, anonymous interactions, or covert operations to communicate with Operators. All communications flow through secured and scrambled devices that do not record or trace connections, making it difficult for anyone to identify or track our activities. There are resources dedicated to Clean Up operations if needed, but the methods work well for the most part.”
“What about central coordination? Surely the Handlers don’t operate independently.”
“No. Rest assured there is a higher level of coordination, but for security purposes the Operators are insulated from that level of the organization.”
“So why do you need an artist? Forgery becoming a terror threat?”
The well-dressed man chuckled lightly. “Our operations cover an enormous range of situations. Having a wide variety of skills is much more useful than having more muscle. Your own background is an excellent example of that.”
Johnson sat back in his seat, drumming his fingers along the table edge as the other men waited expectantly.
“Ok, I’m intrigued. Now what?”
Analise smiled broadly this time, “Excellent. We have a few psychological tests to conduct, just a formality to ensure there are no concerns about your fit with our program. Once that is completed, I’m sure you will be pleased with the team you will be joining.”
Johnson opened his hands in a gesture that indicated he was ready to begin, and the Handler politely dismissed Jonas before flicking open a personal data tablet of unique design.
“Very well. First question: You are walking along a deserted street and you come upon a small white puppy with a broken leg….